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Does your child put off going to bed? Do you find yourself reading yet another story? Will they only sleep if you are with them or they have their “special toy”? Are you ready for them to move into their own bed? Or is your child waking through the night?
Help is at hand! The HandinHand Listening Tools can help to resolve things so that you, and your children, can get a good night’s sleep, at least some of the time.
There are good reasons why it’s sometimes hard for them (and you!) to get to sleep, and stay asleep. Sleep is often experienced by children as a separation, which causes anxiety and grief. And sometimes during sleep, tensions & worries will tend to surface unchecked, causing children to wake.
The good news is that you can make a plan for resolving your child’s feelings about separation and sleep. You can fill their cup of connection, build safety, and listen to their feelings in a way that will build your child’s confidence and resilience, so that bedtime is smooth, and sleep is easy.
You can learn more about why sleep sometimes gets difficult for children, and how you can help them towards a good night’s sleep here.
Preparation – take your time to make a plan
It’s probably worth consulting your family doctor to see if there is any simple physical reason why your child is struggling to sleep. But if there is none, be careful about undertaking immediate “sleep interventions”. It’s easy to get urgent when you are trying to solve the child-sleep problem but it is worth getting a good understanding of the Hand in Hand approach before you begin.
Really resolving the underlying emotional tensions which drive difficulties around sleep is what we would call an “Emotional Project” – for you and your child. It will probably need you to be familiar with, and using, several of the Hand in Hand Listening Tools to build connection and set limits in a way that moves things forward. And you will need some support, too. If you have been struggling with this issue for a while, you are likely to be frustrated and exhausted. You’ll need somewhere to deal with this first, so that you have the emotional space and reserves to tackle your child’s sleep challenges with gentleness and patience.
Sleep as a separation
Children experience sleep as a profound separation, and it’s not uncommon for families I work with on sleep issues to also be struggling with short separations.
Separating from loved ones is one of the major emotional projects that every young child must undertake in their first couple of years of life. It’s normal, and if you understand how to help, it will make the whole process much less stressful for you both.
You can find more about working with children on feelings about separation here.
Separation as a limit
Ultimately, most parenting challenges boil down to some variation of limit setting. Sleep and separation issues are no different: you need to leave (because it’s time to go to work, or it’s time to go to sleep etc) and your child doesn’t want you to. So leaving is a kind of limit, which by definition is going against your child’s will. Limits are good and necessary, and they don’t need to be harsh, mean or disrespectful of your child in order to be effective. But you will need to be comfortable with holding the limit, against your child’s will, and build your confidence in how to do that in a way that improves, rather than damages, your relationship with your child.
The relationship bank account
Our relationship with our children can be thought about as a kind of “bank account”, and limits can be viewed as a withdrawal from the bank account. So for things to go well, we need a way of keeping the bank account in credit. Connection provides that credit – and when we bring necessary limits with our children, we often use up credit. Each time we do that, we need to find a way to replenish our child’s sense of connection with us. The Listening Tools of Special Time and Playlistening are very efficient ways to do that. A child who feels respected, seen and appreciated will respond better to reasonable limit setting – either accepting the limit once enough connection is furnished, or offloading the feelings which are driving the off-track behaviour.
Why consequences don’t work
It can be so easy to reach for consequences when you feel frustrated with your children. And while you are more powerful than your child, they might get some results.
But in the longer run, that exercise of power doesn’t work. As our children get older, and gain some power of their own, your efforts at coercion will show up in conflict and tension.
Find out more: Why Consequences Don’t Work
One of the confusions about setting limits is that our children often get upset when we set them! But it turns out, that is the point. Emotional tension drives our children “off-track” and that’s what triggers the need for us to bring a limit. When we do that with enough warmth and connection, the upset that follows – the tears, the storming, the tantrum – is the pathway to co-operation. We can learn how not to take this personally, and how to listen to our children through this. On the other side of the upset, our children are often able to co-operate with reasonable limits.
Want to learn more?
Try this course: I can highly recommend the short, online Course Helping Young Children Sleep. Consisting of three “classes” of In three hours of video and reading materials, it’s designed to be watched in bite-sized pieces at your own pace. You will learn about why your child has trouble getting to sleep, or staying asleep, and how to provide reassurance and build connection through play. You’ll be introduced to a step by step process for how to set limits around sleep and listen to children’s sadness and upsets. Plus, you’ll learn how to deal with your own frustrations and exhaustion. For $US55, it’s a real bargain.
Listening Tools & Resources
Read this article: Helping Young Children Sleep
Find our more and download helpful PDF’s on:
The Hand in Hand Toolbox
Hand in Hand Listening Tools
Handouts for “Helping Young Children Sleep” Webinar
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Webinar on Helping Children Sleep
Watch the webinar [To be uploaded after the webinar]
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You weren’t meant to parent alone and I would love to help.
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What have other parents said about Madeleine?
Madeleine has helped me and my two year old son’s life move forward in wonderful directions. I have been working with her for a year now and am so impressed by her solid foundation and integration of the Hand in Hand Fundamentals. She has a deep, rich understanding of human behavior and great insight into challenging behaviors. Right from the first consultation she was able to focus in on the specifics of my child’s situation. Every problem she has helped me with- from my son’s sleep, to his hitting, to dealing with co-parenting struggles, Madeleine has lead me to a cooperative, caring and empowering solution.
In addition, to all the technical support is Madeleine’s warmth, complete acceptance, lightheartedness and loving personality. She is able to awaken me to the fact that I am the perfect parent for my child and in all actuality, despite how bad I feel, I am parenting very well.
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©2014-2023 by Madeleine Winter. The featured image above is “Goodnight” by rmarmion
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